PHILIPSBURG--Environment Minister Miklos Giterson and Health Minister Emil Lee met recently with Environmental Engineering and Consulting (EE&G) technicians to better understand the air quality emanating from the dump in Philipsburg.
EE&G is the environmental engineering firm hired by the World Bank to assist as technical advisor for the Emergency Debris Management Project, which is being considered for financing under the St. Maarten Trust Fund, led by the Interim Recovery Committee, the Ministry of Public Housing, Environment, Spatial Development and Infrastructure VROMI and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs VSA.
The project would focus on managing the debris in the country and reducing the associated environmental, health and social risks. The work conducted over the past week has focused on collecting samples of emissions in various locations on the waste disposal site and temporary debris storage area in locations where there are active smoke emissions from internal smouldering of buried waste, it was stated in a press release issued by Lee’s office on Thursday.
Air quality data was collected over a three-day period at the various sources of the smoke emissions on the two sites, to understand the specific chemical constituents present in the emissions and worker exposure during the future fire-extinguishing activities. Additional data was also collected from inside several pieces of equipment that currently operate on the sites. This data is useful as a baseline to develop future sampling plans for perimeter emissions monitoring, community monitoring, and worker health and safety monitoring.
“The advice provided by EE&G is ongoing, but thus far has confirmed what has been widely understood: that the two sites have numerous subsurface fires which are constantly smouldering. These hot spots under various circumstances can result in spontaneous combustion, which may result in flare-ups and, depending on the location and existence of flammable materials in close proximity, these flare-ups can accelerate into larger fires that are difficult to extinguish,” it was stated in the release.
“Extinguishing the numerous subsurface fires is both an important element of reducing the risks associated with debris management and a first step in finding a long-term solution to St. Maarten’s solid waste management challenges.”
To prepare the terms of reference for the selection of a contractor to extinguish the fires, understanding the potential worker exposure risks in the active fire areas is needed so that potential bidders are aware of the level of worker protection and air monitoring that will be required during that phase of the project. Providing for the safety of workers and the offsite downwind community will be part of the bidding terms of reference.
Additionally, the composition of the emissions from the subsurface smouldering of waste at both landfill sites can provide a baseline for the contractors to manage the extinguishment process.
“During the extinguishing process, which may require that some of these hot spots be excavated and exposed to extinguish the fire, appropriate best management techniques will be utilised by the contractor to minimise the emissions during fire suppression activities,” the release said.
Giterson said, “As I mentioned when first coming into office, this waste disposal site is a giant monster which needs to be dealt with and has given me sleepless nights.
“Understanding the complexity of how to manage this problem in a structural and permanent manner is my top priority. Thanks to the staff of VROMI, World Bank and numerous advisors, I am confident that we are approaching this problem in a structural and permanent manner. This problem wasn’t created overnight and won’t be solved overnight either, but it will be dealt with correctly.”
Lee said, “The explanations from the World Bank, VROMI and EE&G have been very informative. Everyone in St. Maarten agrees that getting these sites under control is a national priority. As Minster of Health, I am happy that the process of managing the frequent fires is underway.”